Friday federal headlines – November 8, 2013

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The White House has put a price tag on last month’s government shutdown: $2.5 billion. It came up with that figure by multiplying 16 days of closure by the average salary of furloughed employees. The Office of Management and Budget reports, the 16-day shutdown forced federal employees to miss 6.6 million days of work in aggregate. It says agencies had to forego millions of dollars in revenue. Some programs ground to a halt. The Defense Department lost the most days at 1.6 million. That was followed by the departments of Treasury, Agriculture and Interior, each with more than 600,000. (Federal News Radio)
  • 500 federal employees, mostly from the Bureau of Prisons, have joined a lawsuit against the government. The suit contends that withholding of pay under the recent government shutdown violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. GovExec reports, employees from other agencies are also starting to join the suit, coordinated by a D.C. law firm. Plaintiffs are trying to get damages of $7.25 for each hour they worked in the first week of October. Separately, the Washington Post reports the Merit Systems Protection Board is overwhelmed with 32,000 cases of federal employees claiming they were unfairly furloughed. (GovExec)
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to put more workplace safety data online. A proposed rule would require large companies to file injury and illness reports electronically. OSHA head David Michaels says that would help overwhelmed federal safety inspectors as well as the public. OSHA’s 2,400 inspectors must cover nearly 8 million workplaces nationwide. Michaels says the new plan would help the agency focus on those companies with safety problems and reduce inspections at those with good records. He says OSHA would post the data online after scrubbing it of any personal identifiable information. (Associated Press)
  • The Veterans Affairs Department says it has made so much progress on its backlog of disability claims that it’s no longer making processors work overtime. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he doesn’t want to burn out his workforce. The backlog is defined as cases pending for longer than four months. Shinseki says the VA has cut it by about a third since March. It now stands at just over 400,000 claims. Shinseki says the mandatory overtime program will return in late January. He wants to eliminate the backlog by 2015. (Associated Press)
  • If you want to run for your local school board or town planning board, now you can, even if you are a federal employee. You’ll no longer violate the Hatch Act, which bans political activity by career feds. That’s thanks to a rule made final by the Office of Personnel Management. It applies to D.C., Virginia and Maryland. The rule carries out provisions in the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012, which the President signed nearly a year ago. OPM stipulates that to be kosher under the Hatch Act, local elections must be independent of party affiliation. (Federal News Radio)
  • Momentum is gathering behind the idea of splitting up leadership of the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command. Right now, the colocated agencies have a single boss, Army Gen. Keith Alexander. He retires next spring. Military brass have considered ending the dual-hat situation. Now the White House is actively thinking about it. Alexander has argued against the move on the grounds that Cyber Command still doesn’t have all the in-house expertise it needs. The NSA has been under fire for its sweeping electronic surveillance programs. It may be up for reforms of its own. Bills in Congress would modify its powers and revise the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Associated Press)
  • The IRS sent as much as $3.6 billion in refunds to identity thieves last year. The inspector general says some of the money went to addresses in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ireland. And they went multiple times. The IRS sent more than 300 refunds to a lone address in Shanghai. Both the IG and the IRS note the agency has made progress in spotting potential fraudsters. The total amount of refunds to them is down by about 30 percent compared to a few years ago. For this year, the IRS says it has developed a computer program that helps agents spot when multiple refunds are going to the same address or bank account. (Associated Press)
  • The Navy is opening about 270 elite battlefront jobs to women. By year’s end, a handful will be assigned to a Riverine combat company. They’re called upon to move into shallow waters so they can conduct raids and rescue missions. About 22,000 Navy jobs remain closed to women. The bulk of them are on older ships where, officials say, it would be too expensive to build new, separate facilities for women. The remaining 3,000 are in special operations units. The Pentagon has told all services to open as many jobs as possible to women. They have until 2016. (Associated Press)